A People That…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)

 

We like to draw dividing lines. Just look at a map. Sometimes you have to wonder if the people who made borders were on drugs or just plain confused, but nonetheless they drew lines of separation. Church is no different. Those people over there believe this or do that or worship this way or that, but we do it this way and that’s right.

We draw lines.

Now some lines are crucial, for example theological lines. When the lines of orthodoxy smear we approach dangerous territory. If I believe Jesus is the son of God and you think He was just a prophet, we stand on different foundations. Some lines matter.

But let’s talk about the church – the bride of Christ. The church is the group of people who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and who believe that He died for their sins and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death. That includes a Southern Baptist church in Kansas and Christians in a mud hut in the African desert. They’re all one people – a chosen race.

So what are we all doing, this massive world-sized glob of people with different colors and ages and shapes and places? Are we just ants running around on a hill in different directions?

“…that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

When you see a “that” in the Bible, pay attention. The words after “that” tell you why God did something. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for His own possession, that we might proclaim His excellencies. In other words, God called us together, saved sinners of all tribes, to bring Him honor and glory and to delight in Him.

How incredible. That means the goat-herder and the CEO have the same purpose, granted with different contexts. This “that” provides a purpose for us and a true north. If what you’re doing in your life is proclaiming your own excellencies, you’re back to the tree in The Garden having a sin feast. If you’re reflecting the light of Christ, you’re in your proper lane.

You don’t have to point at the sky when you score a touchdown. You don’t have to go around with a plastered smile on your face. That isn’t the call here. The call here is to joyful obedience to proclaim the excellency of the One worthy of all praise. You will speak with your life.

Live your “that.”

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Healthy Desires

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15 ESV)

 

New Year’s resolutions are so worthless. You decide you’re going to lose 10 pounds and you spend exactly 3 mornings on a treadmill and then 2 weeks later you are diving into the orange bottom of the bag of chips on your couch. Or you decide you’re going to read your Bible or do “quiet time” (whatever that is) but your Bible remains in mint condition past Genesis 1.

Here’s the deal, we are weak-hearted creatures. We think we want holiness but we really just want the positive byproducts of holiness: a good reputation and a clean conscience. A clean mouth isn’t much fun but being well thought of is. Our desires are half-baked and anemic; we want an end result but not really if it ends up looking like a bunch of work. And we really do want to be good people but that’s just because good people seem to win at life.

We are living our lives backwards.

Wanting God’s stuff is not the same as wanting Him. Nearness to our creator is the goal, and if you want to be close to Him, you will be. The invitation is ever open, so long as your heart keeps thumping in your chest. Now there’s a desire worth having – and a desire that redeems the rest of your desires.

For example, if you love God so much that you want to serve Him with the bodily temple He gave you and thus you want to lose 10 pounds, you have a real mission. A mission of becoming a better instrument in the hands of The Lord Himself. You will run long and hard (literally) after this mission because it means something and you’re heading towards God Himself. That’s sustainable. The same goes with your Bible. If you read it to feel good, the desire to feel good is weaker than the desire to read your Bible – so you won’t last long. If you understand that the pages of your Bible connect you to the source of life Himself, that Bible will look more interesting than your phone. So it goes with the rest of our pangs, hungers, and wants.

And yet…

We’ll fail. Sorry sunshine, your ten steps to a better you isn’t going to work. You need a divine heart transplant – and even then you’ll still struggle. The older I get, the more aware I am of my sin. Now when I look back at my life, I am definitely on a positive trajectory in regards to my sanctification, but for some reason as I become more like Jesus I become more awake to my darkness at the same time.

The satisfaction of our deepest longings are found at the foot of the cross. If we place them anywhere else, we will live permanently hungry and the angst of our soul will manifest itself in a million different unhealthy ways. If we orient our lives in pursuit of Jesus, as we slip and scramble and turn our ankle we’ll still be on a path worth taking. Don’t worry, your failings and sins do not disqualify you from nearness to Jesus. He came to heal the sick and we are sick beyond understanding, so we’re in.

All the hellfire and brimstone in the world won’t do much for you if it just makes you feel small or it makes you think you had better step it up buddy or Jesus is a-coming for you like a furious Santa Claus. No, we must turn the page. Yes, our sin is black and our hearts lead us down the paths we don’t want to take, but that isn’t the end of the story. The end of the story is redemption from all of that – from ourselves.

So be careful of your desires. It’s not that they’re necessarily wicked (though they could be), but if your desires have nothing to do with a deeper relationship with God you’ll find neither God nor satisfaction down that path. But filter your desires through the loving kinship with God Himself and you’ll grow closer to God and just watch, those desires will start to work themselves out.

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Seeking the Welfare of Your City

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

 

God is into city-building. The Bible starts in a garden and ends in a metropolis. When people flourish under God’s hand, the end result is a bunch of kids and buildings and a town glowing with His presence.

Your residence is not an accident. God knows the hairs on your head and He knows when a bird falls to the ground – so He surely knows and cares about where you call home. Your neighbors are immortal beings with an eternity in front of them, precious in God’s sight.

And your well-being is tied to theirs.

Economists build their models and theories based upon the theory of self-interest, meaning all of us are motivated to do the thing that brings us the greatest gain (emotionally, spiritually, financially, etc.). When I first heard this it sounded either wrong or pessimistic, but the more you think about it the more this rings true. From your order at Starbucks to your Facebook post this morning, it was all in your self-interest. Your choice of job and your choice of spouse, your car and your shirt. All for your own good.

And guess what – God knows this. Self-interest is not the essence of sin – self-glorification is. We all want to be full of joy and purpose and there’s nothing wrong with that. The lynchpin is how we proceed from the desire to be happy to that which makes us happy. Philippians 2:4 says that we should not only look to our own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The greatest virtue is love – and love costs something. That is why Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross on our behalf is so impactful, because it came at the cost of the slaughter of the Son of God. Love is proactive, outward-seeking. Love is action on the behalf of others, and this usually involves self-denial. When we love we deny ourselves of time, money, and reputation.

But…

God made love – He IS love. And this great love which He first showed to us costs something, but there is a return on the cost. Our welfare and our joy is tied to those around us: our family, our friends, and our city. When we serve others and improve their sense of well-being, our sense of well-being will also increase. It’s a positive correlation.

We cannot serve others if we have nothing to give them. I cannot feed you if I am hungry myself with no food. That is why if we want to serve others with impact we must start at the source. Social justice is great, serving the poor is great, helping that old lady across the street is great, but why? We must start with why. The how will take care of itself if we solve the why.

The why is this: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We serve others because Jesus served us to an unimaginable degree. We love others because the love lavished upon us compels us. You cannot help but respond in love if you understand what Jesus has done for you. As for the how, we start at the Gospel and we must proceed in the Gospel. On the wings of the Good News the Spirit carries us to love and good works.

To bring this all together, it’s clear that our well-being sits at the foot of the cross. At the feet of Jesus. And once we sit there for a moment, understanding a grace beyond grace, we’ll want to get up and engage our city with an other-worldly love.

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